The first full week back at work. My least favourite time of year. Everything just feels that bit more difficult and my anxiety is intensified. More bad news. Another old friend has killed himself, while another is seriously ill. My dreams are increasingly disturbed. Here’s just two from the last few days. In one, I was in the middle of an apocalypse where everyone had been infected with a virus which gave them less than 24 hours to live. People were turning to skeletons in front of my eyes. And the skeletons were turning to dust. In another, I was off to see a performance of a Wagner opera directed by Dominic Raab. I’m not sure which was more of a nightmare. My traditional life hack of counting the days past the winter solstice provides some relief. The reassurance that the days are getting longer even if barely noticeably so. There’s also comfort to be found in the return of familiar TV dramas. Much has been written about Happy Valley, but I’d like to give a shout out to Silent Witness. It’s now into its 26th series and I’ve watched every one. It’s also got more and more reliably absurd. So much so that it’s almost a comedy. Even when it’s over I’ve got little idea of what’s going on. Last week’s made no sense at all. It started with the Italian mafia, moved on to a children’s home and ended with Jack being captured and miraculously released by the head of the police who was also in the mafia. Emilia Fox skates through the two hours with just one expression. Total bewilderment. She’s bewildered when she does an autopsy. She’s bewildered when she is being attacked. And she’s bewildered when she falls in love. I’m not sure if that’s Emilia acting or whether she can’t follow the scripts either. It’s rumoured this is the last ever series. I’ll miss it when it’s gone.
Last September, I wrote that one of our cats had died. Two months later, Jessie, our other cat, also died. Or rather, like her sister, she was put down. She had lost a lot of weight and the vet had said she had a thyroid problem. Initially she seemed to respond to treatment but then she stopped eating, appeared confused and lost more weight. This time the vet detected a tumour and that it would be kindest to have her euthanised. Jessie was very different to her sister. Buzz used to like staying indoors, but Jessie was absent for long periods of the day and liked to spend time with our neighbours. She would appear in the mornings and evenings for her food, but didn’t always seem to remember that her bowl was on the counter above the washing machine to stop the dog from scarfing it. From this, I had concluded she wasn’t particularly bright. How wrong I was. Over the Christmas period we had drinks with our neighbour, Ruth, who showed us videos she had made of Jessie. In one she said: ‘Ring the bell, Jessie,’ and Jessie would go to a bell she had placed on the floor and tap it with her paw. Then she would go back to Ruth to claim her reward. In another, Ruth would say, ‘Give me your paw,’ and Jessie would lift up her paw to be held. And in a final video, Jessie would roll on to her back when commanded. Apparently she had learned all three tricks in next to no time. We were staggered. And felt very guilty. She was clearly clever. And not that anti-social. She had just found living with us and her sister not very stimulating.
So how would you travel from London to Leeds for a one-hour business meeting? If you were a sucker for punishment, had hours to spend in traffic and weren’t too bothered about your carbon footprint you might drive. But most of us would probably take the train. About two hours each way and time and space to work both ways. Especially if you were on expenses and could upgrade to first class. Rishi Sunak did neither. He drove to an airport and hired a private plane. When all the faffing about was complete, he probably saved himself about half an hour each way. When the rest of the country is worried about bills and saving the planet, Sunak seems wilfully out of touch. The optics were terrible. But it’s getting to be a bit of a habit. When Sunak was chosen as prime minister, we were told that he was a pragmatic tech bro: a man who would get things done. Who wasn’t afraid to change his mind. But what if it turned out Rishi is a politician who isn’t actually very good at politics. That his first instinct is always to do the wrong thing. Take onshore wind farms. Despite 70% of the country being in favour, he wooed the Tory nimby voters by opposing them. Until he didn’t. He did a similar U-turn over planning for new housing. And he seems to have totally misjudged the national mood over strikes in the NHS and the railways. Most people understand that the health service is in crisis, that doctors and nurses have been underpaid for years and there is something fundamentally wrong with the system when nurses are using food banks. But Sunak’s government has been on the wrong side of the argument throughout, setting itself against the workers even after clapping them during the Covid pandemic. It’s just so short-sighted. Everyone knows there will have to be an increased pay offer to settle the dispute, so why not do it quickly? Sunak thinks he looks strong, but he gets weaker by the day. Not just bad government, but bad politics.
You can’t argue with the numbers. Prince Harry’s Spare sold more than 400,000 copies (including audible and e-books) on its publication day in the UK. In all English language versions it sold more than 1.4m copies. That’s phenomenal. Bantam, which published the book in the UK, must be thrilled. It now has the fastest selling non-fiction book of all time and is already into a reprint. I’ve actually read the book – I brought the digested read out of retirement again to mark the occasion – and it’s far better and more readable than its early publicity had suggested. Partly this is down to the ghostwriter, JR Moehringer, who also did the excellent Andre Agassi autobiography, who is a class act. He knows how to structure and handle his material. At times Spare almost reads as a thriller. It’s also because – and no doubt Moehringer also had a hand in this – Harry comes across as more likeable and self-aware than he is often portrayed. More willing to own up to his own faults. And yet ... I couldn’t help feeling he would have been better off not writing this book. Partly because you can’t avoid the obvious contradictions. If Harry really wanted to escape the attention of the media and protect his family, he wouldn’t have pumped out his “truth” – we’re asked to accept that his faulty memories are a higher form of truth than what might have actually happened – to a public feeding frenzy. I also think he’s made the cardinal sin of many people who have been in therapy for five years. He thinks he knows it all. Wrong. I did the same and paid the price when trying to insist on my truth to friends and family. Five years is only the start. Now 30-plus years into therapy, I have come to realise that the “truth” changes and that it’s often best kept between me and my therapist. Harry says he has invaded the privacy of Prince William and King Charles because he wants them to understand and to heal the relationship. He might just have ensured that never happens.
This weekend is the north London derby. Spurs v Arsenal. And I can already feel that familiar sense of dread. A feeling that is borne from a hint of hope. As the late great Peter Cook used to say: “It’s always the hope that gets you.” It hadn’t looked as if it was going to be this way because Spurs had been playing so badly I – and most other fans – had come to expect nothing. We were back with our familiar gallows humour. At the last away game at Crystal Palace, the mood amongst the Spurs fan was jokey and totally relaxed. We felt that it was only a matter of time before a player did something idiotic and we conceded. Weirdly, I felt completely at home. As if I had got my team back. At half-time it had more or less gone to plan with the score at 0-0. The crowd even enjoyed two Spurs mascots taking penalties. One kicked the ball over the bar three times in a row: the other sent it wide of the right post three times in a row. The most Spurs thing ever. Then we scored. Up went a chant: “We scored the first goal. How shit must you be.” Then we scored three more and started knocking the ball round like kings. So now I find myself daring to believe that we might just steal a win against our old rivals. Pray for me. But whatever happens, I’ll be raising a Diet Coke to Gareth Bale who has announced his retirement. Probably the best player I’ve ever seen in more than 50 years of going to White Hart Lane. He had it all. He could shoot with both feet, though he preferred his left, he could head the ball, he could pass and he sure could run. He was mesmeric. The heartbeat of a team that made football look fun. Above all, he was all heart. Some players I’ve seen – I’ll spare their blushes by not mentioning names – have stopped trying in the season before they get a transfer to a bigger club. Bale gave it his all right to the end. For that and everything, thank you Gareth.
• In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information visit www.samaritans.org. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at 800-273-8255 or chat for support. You can also text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis text line counselor. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org